Schwanengesang stands out in this recital from two world class performers.
Unlike his other great song cycles, Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, Schubert never actually wrote Schwanengesang! When he died in 1828 he left behind a collection of Lieder based on the writings of the contemporary poets Ludwig Rellstab, Heinrich Heine and Johann Gabriel Seidl. Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger put these works, which may have been intended for separate single poet collections, together to form the Schwanengesang that we know today. He was keen to exploit the songs’ commercial potential, but nevertheless he displayed a profound understanding of how best they might be heard together. The same could be said of tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Mitsuko Uchida as in their performance at the Wigmore Hall they applied a coherent approach to the cycle as a whole while handing each song its rightful sense of individuality.
Padmore’s delivery combined a certain dreaminess and otherworldliness in his tone with a strong sense of focus. This meant that he could exert great control over the disparate sounds that the various Lieder required of him, and thus provide an overarching sense of unity to them. Even his hand gestures felt in keeping with, and indeed epitomised, his performance. So often they moved from being pressed together, as if in a praying position, to one being just in front of the other, thus suggesting focus and direction without any of the hyperbolism that greater movements might have conveyed.
The opening ‘Liebesbotschaft’ revealed some notably tender singing, and, especially in the third verse, Padmore’s ability to sound as if he was gliding across a line. The manner in which the four couplets of the final verse were managed was also extremely skilful with the variation between them making them feel highly distinct, and the repetition of the final one feeling particularly divine. ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ that followed indeed felt full of foreboding, while the boldness that Padmore applied to the final word of the first verse ‘heiss’ when repeated revealed his ability to assert his sound with immense power when required, and his skill in moving to relative extremes only so smoothly that the performance in no way felt jerky or hyperbolic. The final verse was also executed superbly as Padmore contrasted the rushing urgency of the first two lines in which battles call with the tenderness of the latter pair when he contemplates being asleep and at rest.
“…they applied a coherent approach to the cycle as a whole while handing each song its rightful sense of individuality”
‘Frühlingssehnsucht’ was also presented well as he used the question that lies at the end of each verse to set himself up for the next so that there was a sense of progression through the song as a whole, even as we also felt the cyclical nature of its five verses. ‘Ständchen’ was immaculately explored, and ‘Aufenthalt’ possessed the right level of severity for a song about a rock becoming one’s resting place, while the climax on ‘Fels’ in the final verse was positively shattering. Other highlights included ‘Der Doppelgänger’, where paradoxically there was a certain warmth in the starkness of the expression, and the final ‘Die Taubenpost’. This is the only poem in the cycle whose words are by Johann Gabriel Seidl, and many have argued that it does not fit naturally with the other Lieder with its inclusion in the cycle only resulting from Haslinger’s aim to feature what is believed to be the final Lied Schubert ever wrote. As Padmore cogently argued, however, it rightfully deserves its place, and he proved it in his performance in which he appeared to cradle and thus contemplate the carrier pigeon whose name is ‘Longing’.
It takes very different skills to be a virtuoso concert pianist and a Lieder accompanist and yet, as Mitsuko Uchida more than proved, it is possible for the same person to possess both sets. It is expected that an accompanist should work as one with the singer, but even allowing for this there was something special about the way in which Uchida did so. It clearly derived from her skills and ability to offer an astute interpretation in her own right, but the playing only ever stood out in a good way as it always felt supportive of Padmore rather than dominant. Some of the ‘rumbling’ effects that close several of the Lieder were particularly notable for the way in which they simultaneously felt both rich and sparing, while the attention to detail was staggering. This came across throughout the performance but especially during ‘Abschied’ when Padmore’s cry of ‘Ade!’ at the end of the first verse seemed to fade into the piano line that rolled on. The concert’s programming also proved strong with the first half featuring Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98 (1816) and three other Lieder by the composer. The theme that underlay the evening as a whole was therefore longing, and in these similarly impeccable performances from Padmore and Uchida it became easy to appreciate for ourselves all of the facets that there are to this most intriguing of emotions.
• This recital was recorded for future release.
• For details of all upcoming events at the Wigmore Hall visit its website.